Following on from last year's "2008 top five", here is my list of the top five most important in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) moments of 2009. Please feel free to weigh in with your on thoughts on the matter.
1) Southwest Airlines agrees to equip entire 500-plus aircraft fleet with Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity service. No matter how you feel about the Ku-band business model, Southwest's decision was HUGE. Largely considered to be one of the savviest airlines in the world, Southwest in 2009 opted not to follow its fellow US carriers in equipping its aircraft with Aircell's Gogo service. Instead, it intends to expand on its four-aircraft Row 44 trial and roll out the system fleet-wide beginning in the first quarter.
2) Lufthansa agrees to reinstate its defunct Connexion by Boeing Ku-band broadband service under a deal with Panasonic Avionics. Although equipage of Panasonic's eXConnect service is not expected to occur until mid-2010, Lufthansa is going to set the bar for in-flight connectivity on overseas flights when its FlyNet-branded connectivity service is reinstated. Panasonic partner AeroMobile's in-flight mobile communications solution will also be offered by the German operator. (The deal is BIG for Panasonic too, as it has been working on a Ku-band solution since Connexion announced it was going out of business in 2006.)
3) Continental Airlines inks deal with Aircell to equip 21 Boeing 757s with Gogo. This was significant on a number of counts. Firstly, it means that Aircell has secured agreements with every single US legacy carrier and cemented its role as the prominent provider of in-flight Wi-Fi in the USA. Continental is already installing LiveTV's amazing third generation live television product across its domestic fleet, so when Gogo is offered in tandem with live television on the carrier's 757s, passengers will be able to experience one of the best IFEC packages in the USA (this is not to discount Virgin America's current IFEC offering, which rocks!)
4) Boeing issues request for information (RFI) for Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-based connectivity solution for the 787 twinjet. The RFI, first revealed by RWG, shows that Boeing is thinking along the same lines as Airbus, which considers SwiftBroadband the entry point into in-flight connectivity for carriers (and has made it standard on all its long-haul aircraft!) Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It also indicates that Boeing is finally thinking again about connectivity for the 787 after Connexion's demise.
5) Oman Air takes delivery of the first commercial widebody to offer both mobile and Internet connectivity. The new Airbus A330-300 was linefit with Airbus/SITA partnership OnAir's equipment, which uses SwiftBroadband. The service will go live in early 2010. In falling for connectivity hook, line and sinker, Oman has become a torch-bearer for other international carriers considering taking a leap into connectivity.
Honorable mention number 1: Two companies, Lumexis and Zodiac unit Sicma, are poised to inject some much-needed competition into the in-flight entertainment world, after securing customers for their innovative new systems in 2009. Nice work!
Honorable mention number 2: The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) recent decision to impose stricter in-flight security guidelines in the wake of a failed Christmas Day terrorist attack had many folks in the IFEC industry sitting on pins and needles. While the TSA later retracted most of the guidelines that pertained to in-flight entertainment, connectivity and electronics, the agency's knee-jerk reaction - and subsequent heavy-handed approach to dealing with the bloggers who leaked the security directive - is worrisome on so many levels. Something to keep an eye on as we learn about the TSA's ever-changing guidelines.
In the heat of all the action yesterday, I taped a podcast with aviation industry expert - and Jetwhine editor - Robert Mark about the TSA's PR debacle. Check it out.
I'd like to thank all the RWG readers out there who find value in this blog (or don't find value but still read, ahem :) Best of luck in the New Year. I'm certain 2010 is going to be a very interesting year for IFEC!